Sisters recall 150 years of help and being helped
By luke eggleston / SUN staff writer
The history of the Albany Province of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet is inextricably linked with that of Oswego in the Northern Region of the Syracuse Diocese.
Oct. 20, the sisters of the Albany Province will open the celebration of their 150th anniversary with a special Mass at St. Mary of the Assumption in Oswego. Bishop James Moynihan will be the main celebrant and Bishop Thomas Costello will be the homilist at the historic anniversary.
According to the province’s development director Sister Mary Rose Noonan, CSJ, the event is intended as a means of showing gratitude.
“We’re trying to thank all of the people who helped us through the years,” Sister Mary Rose said, noting that many of the Oswego residents are descendents of those people who supported the sisters when they first came to Upstate New York from St. Louis.
Only two Sisters of St. Joseph still reside in Oswego, Sister Mary Alice St. John, CSJ, and Sister Germaine Hilston, CSJ.
Sister Mary Alice is a native of Oswego. Her home parish is St. Paul’s Church and she is missioned at St. Joseph’s where she is the director of religious education. When she attended Oswego Catholic High School, Sister Mary Alice was taught by Franciscan sisters and Sisters of St. Joseph who were based in Rochester. However, her aunt and her great aunt had lived in the community attached to the Albany Province, so she was drawn to it.
Sister Mary Alice initially resisted her desire to become a sister. But ultimately God’s call was too strong.
“I really did not want to become a sister. I fought off that inner call and made bargains with God,” she said. “I entered but I put up obstacles. But after I entered I knew it was for me. It was a heart-rendering decision.”
She has served as a teacher, a receptionist, a researcher, a task manager and a director of faith formation.
As an Oswego native, she is excited that the anniversary will be held in her home town.
“I think it’s wonderful that Oswego will be recognized as the first place we came to,” she said.
A native of Albany, Sister Germaine has come to love the city of Oswego and the county in general. Sister Germaine described herself as a catechetical resource for religious education instructors. As such, she travels on a weekly basis throughout the small communities that dot Oswego County.
“There are two reasons that I’m excited about this [upcoming celebration],” she said. “I love the city of Oswego and the people of Oswego. The other is the fact that it’s a celebration of the sisters and their history in Oswego.”
Sister Germaine could only hazard a guess at the number of people who will come to Oswego for the celebration, but she estimated between 200 and 300.
Sister Mary Alice also sees the event as a means of celebrating religious life in general.
“It’s a wonderful occasion to celebrate religious life…the journey of the sisters and the journey of their faith as they interacted with the people of God,” she said.
The first sisters who would ultimately come to form the Albany Province arrived in 1855 at the request of the French-born Father Joseph Guerdet, who was then the pastor at St. Mary of the Assumption in Oswego. The parish had established its own school in the early 1850s and three lay people staffed it.
Father Guerdet was aware that Bishop John Timon of the Western New York Diocese (which would split into the Buffalo and Rochester Dioceses) had requested Sisters of St. Joseph to teach at a school in Canandaigua and the Oswego priest followed his example.
There were six sisters in the original party that came to Oswego. Only one, Sister Eusebius Verdin, was American born. Sisters Patricia Pyne, Flavia Waldron and Chrysostom McCann were each from Ireland, while Sister Hyacinth Blanc was of French origin and Mother Stanislaus Saul (the superior) was German. All of the sisters were between 19 and 26 when they arrived in Oswego.
According to documents, the order has on file at its motherhouse in the Albany suburb of Latham, the sisters were greeted by the same weather Oswego County has become synonymous with over the years.
“The sisters traveled from St. Louis to Oswego by train and arrived in the midst of a heavy snowstorm on April 15, 1858,” the document reads.
The parishioners there had been planning on the sisters arrival for three years but the convent was still not ready so Father Guerdet secreted them away at one of the local homes in order to surprise the parishioners during Sunday Masses. The storm had forced all of the Oswego residents to remain at home, so none of them were aware of the sisters’ arrival until Father Guerdet introduced them.
Ever since their arrival, their presence and influence has grown throughout the Syracuse Diocese and the Albany Province.